Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 65 days
How convenient for the sake of our countdown that the Indians’ most recent player to wear the number 65, Zach Plesac, celebrates his 25th birthday 65 days from the first pitches of the 2020 Major League Baseball regular season schedule (the young hurler has since switched his number to 34 for the coming year).
Plesac was one of the surprise bright spots for Cleveland in a season that left plenty to be desired as the Indians finished outside of the playoffs for the first time since 2015. As the starting rotation crumbled after an unforeseen number of injuries and the offense struggled after offseason moves and general inactivity left the lineup devoid of some of its former producers, the Tribe’s season could have very much been on the brink of disaster. It was the likes of young arms like Plesac which helped keep the Indians in the playoff race down to the end of the season, but the deficit to the Minnesota Twins and a crowded and well contented American League Wild Card picture both proved to be too much to overcome.
Plesac, like fellow minor league rotation mate Aaron Civale, did not appear to be in the Indians’ 2019 plans when the campaign began, but he quickly became a part of it after Mike Clevinger and Corey Kluber succumbed to injuries and both Adam Plutko and Cody Anderson were unable to hold down the vacated spots. Plesac’s call came at the end of May, just three starts after moving from Double-A Akron to Triple-Columbus. After his contract was purchased from the minors and he was added to the 40-man roster, he was presented with the daunting task of pitching his first Major League game at Fenway Park against the Boston Red Sox. He scattered a run on four hits in a no-decision abbreviated by rain (a common thread for him over the course of the season that made it seem that former Tribe third baseman Josh Donaldson’s nickname, “the Bringer of Rain”, had been given to the wrong ball player).
Plesac continued to pitch well for the Indians after that, going at least seven innings in four of his next five starts. He scuffled a bit at the end of June, allowing seven runs in a bad start against Baltimore, and his first start in July was again preempted by rain in Kansas City. He returned for a quick trip back to Columbus during the All-Star break to keep him pitching consistently.
He had faced the minimum over three innings in his first start back with the Indians on July 16 when rain again knocked him out of a contest early, this time against the Detroit Tigers (three relievers to follow him completed the one-hit shutout). He won each of his next three starts and had a pair of tough no-decisions before giving up three homers in four and two-thirds innings against the Yankees on August 17. He bounced back with a good start against Kansas City before dropping two games to close August and open September.
Plesac made his season-best performance on September 10 in Anaheim against the Los Angeles Angels. Granted some strong early run support, Plesac cruised to a complete game, four-hit shutout over the Halos. He was touched up for four runs in four and one-third innings against Philadelphia in his final home start before taking a no-decision in a five-and-fly in Washington, DC, against the eventual champions in the final start of his rookie year.
Plesac’s first season concluded with an 8-6 record for Cleveland with a 3.81 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP over 21 starts. His minor league numbers included a sparkling 4-2 record, a 1.70 ERA, and a 0.80 WHIP in ten outings split between Double-A and Triple-A.
With the in-season trade of Trevor Bauer and the offseason trade of Kluber, Plesac will have his opportunity to forge his MLB path as he will look to keep a rotation spot alongside Shane Bieber, Carlos Carrasco, and Clevinger. Others expected to be in the running to fill out the other rotation spots include Civale, Plutko, and Jefry Rodriguez.
Plesac, who was the fifth 65 in Indians history, will follow a similar path to former Indians All-Star and Cy Young winner Cliff Lee for the coming season. Like Lee, Plesac began his big league career in the number 65 and quickly swapped it for the number 34 (Lee later moved into his more familiar number 31 for the better and more successful portions of his MLB career). Plesac is hardly considered to be on a similar path to Lee otherwise, but he is young enough that his ceiling is still an unknown.
Lee was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the fourth round of the 2000 draft, but by 2002, the 23-year-old was a member of the Cleveland Indians as he joined Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Lee Stevens in relocating to the Tribe organization midseason in exchange for Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew in a trade still talked about today.
Lee made eleven starts over his first two seasons in the Majors with the Indians before becoming a full-time member of their starting rotation. He wore 65 in his debut season in 2002 and again for part of the 2003 season before swapping it for the number 34. He later settled in to his more familiar 31 and remained a representative of numbers in the 30’s for the rest of his career.
He received his first of four total All-Star nods in 2008, when he won the Cy Young Award and went 22-3 with a 2.54 ERA for the Indians. He was dealt the following July to the Philadelphia Phillies and later spent time with the Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers before returning to Philly to close out his successful career with 13 years logged and a career 143-91 record with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP.
The first to wear 65 for the Indians and the fourth to wear it in baseball history (according to Baseball Reference) was Jose Roman, a young right-hander out of the Dominican Republic who made his debut with the Indians at the age of 21 in 1984. He pitched in three games that season (making two starts) and lost a pair of games. He would return in each of the next two seasons for a handful of appearances, but was dealt to the New York Mets early in the 1987 season and spent that season and the following in the minors for the club before calling it a career.
Giovanni Soto spent his brief big league career wearing the number 65 for the Indians in 2015. Selected in the 2009 draft in the 21st round out by the Detroit Tigers out of Carolina, Puerto Rico, he joined the Indians organization in 2010 as the return in the Jhonny Peralta trade. Primarily a starter in the early years of his professional career, he moved into relief work in 2013.
After making his way through the minors, the left-hander made a brief six-game appearance for the Indians in September of 2015, working three and one-third innings of scoreless baseball while allowing three hits. Despite the small body of success, he did not make the club’s bullpen at the end of spring training in 2016 and was dealt to the Chicago Cubs. He has failed to return to the Majors since, logging minor league innings for the Cubs in 2016 and across town for the White Sox in 2017 before spending the last two years bouncing around foreign winter leagues and independent ball.
Joseph Colon dusted the number off the following year when he appeared in eleven games for the Indians over the course of that 2016 season (which included a trip to the disabled list and a return trip to the minors). He went 1-3 with the Tribe with a 7.20 ERA and a 1.90 WHIP in his first taste of the Majors, but it proved to be his only sample.
Before that MLB cup of coffee, the Puerto Rican right-hander climbed his way through the farm system after being taken in the 12th round of the 2009 draft. Previously a starter and the owner of a no-hitter while with Akron, he converted to a relief role in 2015. He lost much of his 2017 campaign to suspension and signed with St. Louis for 2018, but he did not pitch for the Cardinals; instead, he pitched out of Mexico in what has been his last recorded game activity.
Photo: Icon SportsWire
Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below!
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 99 (Daniel Robertson)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 90 (Adam Cimber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 88 (Phil Maton)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 77 (Jack Armstrong)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 76 (Tom Magrann)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 75 (Mike Walker)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 73 (Ricardo Rincon)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 72 (Jason Giambi)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 71 (Johnny Hodapp)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 70 (James Karinchak, George Kontos)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 69 (Luis Medina)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 68 (Jefry Rodriguez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 67 (Aaron Civale, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 66 (Yasiel Puig, others)